NEWTOWN, Conn. --- With financing issues finally behind it, the Copernicus program has entered its operational phase. Satellites have begun to launch, and contracts continue to be signed to cover future spacecraft. In 2013, the EU committed to funding the program, and will continue to do so to maintain on-orbit coverage.
The primary source of data for the program will be a family of Sentinel satellites. Data will be supplemented by commercial satellites. Four satellites launched between 2014 and 2016. Forecast International expects three additional satellites to launch by 2020. ESA has signed firm-fixed-price contracts with Airbus and Thales Alenia Space to build the satellites, which will protect the agency from cost growth and ensure that all satellites will be paid for. In addition, third and fourth satellites were ordered for the Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2, and Sentinel-3 series of satellites, ensuring coverage well into the 2020s.
Forecast International expects funding for the Copernicus program to continue well into the future. Satellites that are currently being launched have a lifespan of at least seven years and will eventually need replacement. Contracts to replace Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites have already been signed. Launch intervals of about eight years are most likely, considering that many large-scale government remote sensing satellites remain on orbit for longer than expected.